I was asked this question recently as I was in full flow pontificating on one of my favourite subjects, the balance and interaction between genetic inheritance and environment and the plasticity of the brain, when I was interrupted:
‘Yes, but… what are children FOR?’
Caught off-guard I stammered off the top of my head (and a little glibly) something like ‘Um..well, children become really good company when they’re older and maybe one day they’ll buy you a house’.
This was weeks ago, and I have of course been thinking about it ever since, so that if someone asks me that question again I can reply definitively and confidently ‘Oh, well you see…’
The definitive answer though remains stubbornly unforthcoming and of course I know that’s because it’s a subjective thing and everyone will have a different take on it. It made me think though; perhaps we should have some idea of what we think children are for, just so that we know our expectations. And maybe if we reflect on it we’ll find out that some of our unconscious expectations don’t really belong to us, they are just ideas we have internalised from our society or our parents, or t.v. adverts…
It was so much simpler in the olden days when the answer was clearly ‘To work on the farm’.
The question has come up for me many times in relation to specific circumstances – mostly slumped in front of Teletubbies, losing the will to live, as grumpy kids moan at me and I think ‘why am I doing this?’ – but I don’t think I ever considered it as a larger question, and certainly not before my children were born.
Because I have come a little late to this question I can only look back and say in retrospect what my children turned out to be for. Turns out that (I think) they made me into a better person in some ways – less selfish, less self-righteous, less of a know-it-all and more able to accept, go with the flow and live in the moment. They challenged me in specific ways that only children can and forced me to draw on reserves of humour, self-deprecation and energy I didn’t think I possessed.
I always had a vague idea that the ultimate job of parents was to deliver to the world another good person who would in some ways make the world a better place, but selfishly I’m glad just to have four older children who are good company and make me laugh.
That seems enough really. So, call me superficial but maybe that glib answer I gave was the most accurate one for me: ‘To be good company when they’re older and to buy me a house’. And for the latter point, out of my four children, I already know which one my money’s on.